A Harlem girl was recently recognized for efforts to better the lives of others.
Mary Frances Vest, 10, was named as one of 42 Georgia winners of the Kohl's Kids Who Care Scholarship Program for her drive to collect school supplies for children victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Just after school began in the fall, Mary Frances began collecting school supplies for children affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our teacher at Horizons (Columbia County's elementary school gifted program) told us that they were building new schools down there and we thought they could use lots of school supplies and that would save lots of money for other things like food and stuff down there," Mary Frances said.
The rising North Harlem Elementary School fifth-grader collected or purchased nearly $2,000 worth of school supplies.
Office Depot donated many of the supplies, including bookbags, folders, stickers and pens, Mary Frances said. She held a yard sale, raising about $200 to buy more supplies.
"Any money she got herself during this drive, she spent on school supplies," said Mary Frances' mother, Bonnie Vest.
Courtney K. Rogaczewski, a spokeswoman for Kohl's, said the scholarship program was created seven years ago to reward youth and teens for their selflessness and encourage them to volunteer to transform their communities.
A Harlem AmeriCorps volunteer entered Mary Frances' project in the scholarship program and Mary Frances learned she'd won in late May. She joins two Augusta children as the only area state winners. Mary Frances earned a $50 Kohl's gift card and a certificate.
Her project will go on to the regional competition, where she could win a $1,000 scholarship. The national winner will receive a $5,000 prize.
Mary Frances is not new to volunteering. She began helping her parents, the Rev. Roger and Bonnie Vest, deliver Meals on Wheels at only 18 months old.
She said volunteering her time makes her feel good while doing something good for others.
Mary Frances' mother is an AmeriCorps volunteer with Hands on Harlem, which coordinates numerous volunteer projects around the city. Her father is pastor of Harlem United Methodist Church, heads a Columbia County communications board and is a board member of The Harlem Foundation, all of which coordinate numerous mission trips and volunteer efforts.
Mrs. Vest said a man from the church went on a mission trip to Hondsboro United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Miss., just after Christmas and took the supplies to the church for distribution to needy children.
A thank you note from the church was all the appreciation Mary Frances needed. In fact, she's already started her next collection drive.
"Now, I'm going to raise money to get teddy bears and stuffed animals for the children down there," Mary Frances said. "At our church, we're going to start doing gift bags for kids in the hospital. We're going to give them like a teddy bear, a coloring book and some crayons."
Mary Frances said she's planning to include gift bags for the adults with the hospitalized children, too, possibly with candy and sodas, she said.
Mary Frances, who earned first place in the regional science fair and was recently selected to go to the People to People World Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., has even larger plans for her life. She wants to be a medical missionary and attend Duke University, her father's alma mater.
"My three ultimate goals are to find a cure to leukemia, breast cancer and find out what causes autism," Mary Frances said. "My grandfather just found out he has diabetes and I want to find out what causes diabetes."
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